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Changes coming to high school football?

Of the Keizertimes

While nothing is final, OSAA high school football schedules may look different than other sports in 2018-19.

When the Executive Board adopted its final classification in October, which put McNary and four other Salem-Keizer schools in a league with Bend, it also created a football ad hoc committee, made up of athletic directors, coaches and principals from 1A to 6A.

The ad hoc committee’s task was reviving a sport that is declining in participation.

One recommendation from the committee allows football teams with a Conley winning percentage of 22 percent or lower to move down a classification for football only. In 6A, McKay is one of the schools that has agreed to move down and play in 5A for two years.

The committee has also proposed alignments for varsity football only.

In option A, McNary would play in a 12-team special district with South Salem, West Salem, Sprague as well as three Bend schools and five teams from Southern Oregon. While option B would only include the Salem-Keizer and Bend schools, minus McKay.

At a meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 16, the state’s 6A athletic directors recommended option B with each team playing four league games and then having the flexibility to schedule five non-league games.

McNary athletic director Scott Gragg said that didn’t mean the Celtics would be guaranteed to play the three Salem schools as part of their league schedule but could hypothetically schedule one of them for a non-league game.

“I could very easily see each of the Salem-Keizer schools having two Salem competitions and two Bend competitions, one home and one away,” Gragg said. “We wouldn’t want to leave Bend out on an island. By default we’d play them at least once anyway. They’re going to need to play at least their two and need to look for two more.”

The flexibility would allow teams to put together a more competitive schedule after last year 42 percent of games were decided by more than four touchdowns.

The 6A athletic directors are also recommending a 24-team playoff, instead of 32, with the top eight teams getting a first round bye. The top eight seeds all won in the first round last season, outscoring their opponents 450-82.

“That would be different from any other sport at any other level,” Gragg said. “The committees like to be consistent across the board. You’re seeing that in different sport. But what we’re finding out is football is a different animal.

“The desire is to build football programs to create balance in a way that draws more interest and promotes the sport in a time when the sport is showing trends that it is not growing.”

The 6A football recommendations go to the OSAA State Championship Committee and then the Executive Board, which makes the final call.

“This isn’t final by any stretch of the imagination,” Gragg said.

The ad hoc committee has also discussed eliminating conferences altogether, since playoffs are decided by power rankings anyway, but Gragg doesn’t see that happening this time, even though he likes the idea.

“Really, the conferences, other than identity, are meaningless, because the playoffs are based off RPI rankings,” Gragg said. “It makes sense for all sports but it would also be a scheduling nightmare from an athletic director’s perspective. But if it’s in the best interest of kids, it might be where we land with all sports. If the ad hoc committee ever landed there, which I don’t think is on the books for this one, we would start with football and then move on and see how it goes and add sports as we go.”

Also on the table is Salem-Keizer’s appeal of league realignment for all sports, which is scheduled for Monday, Jan. 29 at 9 a.m. at the district’s Support Services Center.

Being in a league with Bend is expected to cost the Salem-Keizer school district $700,000 per year in additional travel.

One way to cut costs is sub-varsity teams traveling less.

“When we can travel one bus, all three levels, then we’ll do that,” Gragg said. “If we can’t, if we need to take two buses, we might have that freshman team stay here and play Sprague three times instead of just twice.”